BANGKOK, Thailand: The Socceroos' biggest stars found their range when it counted Monday with Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell scoring late goals in a 4-0 win over Thailand that secured Australia an Asian Cup quarterfinals spot.
Australia started the tournament as favorite in its debut at the Asia Cup, but after an opening draw with Oman and a 3-1 loss to Iraq, it needed to beat co-host Thailand to reach the knock-out stage.
Now it will meet two-time defending champion Japan at Hanoi on Saturday in a rematch of their World Cup group match from last year. Australia scored three late goals to win that match en route to a second-round exit to eventual champion Italy.
After the defense absorbed almost 30 minutes of Thai attacking raids on Monday, the Socceroos scored on the counter with Viduka's muscular effort in the 80th minute. His perfect header three minutes later made it 3-0.
Liverpool winger Kewell, a late substitute after being benched for the first time in the tournament, put the result beyond doubt when he stormed onto a pass from Tim Cahill, took the ball into the area and drove in a right-foot shot in the 90th minute.
"We were tested at the back, but we managed to score some goals," Australia coach Graham Arnold said. "Things haven't really gone well for us, but we are looking forward to playing Japan."
More than 40,000 fans ignored tropical rain Monday at Rajamangala National Stadium — some climbing a fence because gates were closed amid traffic congestion — to cheer on the Thai national team, which pressed the Australians hard until the late three-goal burst gave the visitors a more flattering scoreline.
Newcastle recruit Viduka missed a chance in the first minute and the Thais had two shots before Australia opened the scoring in the 20th minute when Michael Beauchamp headed home a free kick from David Carney.
Thailand dominated possession inside Australia's half early in the second half but failed to capitalize.
Coach Chanvit Pholchivin made several changes, fielding newly married Datsakorn Thonglao, Jetsada Jitsawad — who just recovered from a hamstring injury — and Pipat Thonkanya, who scored in Thailand's win over Oman.
Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer made a spectacular save in the 63rd minute and Thailand missed an equalizer by inches in the 69th before conceding a goal against the run of play.
"I'm not disappointed much, this is a football game," Chanvit said. "We made a lot of mistakes in our scoring chances. Australia is lucky that there was rain and our good player was injured.
"It is still our pride that we also got four points like Australia. Even when we lost, fans stood for us at the stadium. We fought with our best against one of the best teams."